Category Archives: Mutual Fund Commentary

April 1, 2018

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s spring.

It’s snowing.

Happy Easter.

Or Happy Eostre, if you prefer. The timing of Easter appears to be another instance of religious plagiarism, as early Christians borrowed a pagan spring festival as the (endlessly variable) date on which to celebrate the Resurrection. We don’t know that Eostre actually was a pagan goddess, since only the Venerable Bede testifies to her existence. Still, it makes sense and would be a great time to be hopeful.

So, Felices Pascuas and/or chag Continue reading →

Snowball’s portfolio

By David Snowball

Roy Weitz, founder of FundAlarm and sort of godfather to MFO, annually shared his portfolio, and his reflections on it, with his readers. He owned up to his mistakes, talked through his logic and revealed his plans. When I began contributing to FundAlarm, he encouraged me to do likewise. This essay, then, is an annual “think aloud” exercise that might help you imagine how to make more informed, satisfying decisions for yourself. In constructing it, I drew on my reading and conversations with managers as well as the tools available at Morningstar and MFO Premium.

I’ve thought long and hard to create a portfolio that allows me to be dumb and lazy. My overarching goal is to have a portfolio that lets me Continue reading →

The Morningstar Minute

By David Snowball

Morningstar’s analysts can cover a limited number of funds, “those investments that are most relevant to investors and that hold a significant portion of industry assets.” When analysts cover a fund, they issue a forward-looking rating based on five research-driven “pillars.” Those ratings are described by medal assignments: Gold, Silver, Bronze, Neutral and Negative. The analyst ratings are distinct from the iconic star ratings; the star ratings are backward looking (they tell you how a fund did based on risk and return measures) while the analyst ratings are forward-looking (they aspire to tell you how a fund will do based on a broader set of Continue reading →

The 15 / 15 Funds

By David Snowball

It was ridiculously easy to make 15% total returns in 2017. 3,406 funds managed the feat.

And it was not particularly hard to hold 15% cash in 2017, though it was certainly unpopular with investors. 970 funds held that level of cash, either as collateral on derivative purchases, as a defensive move, or from the inability to find suitable investments.

Making 15% is good. It’s about 50% above the Continue reading →

Launch Alert: T. Rowe Price Multi-Strategy Total Return Fund

By David Snowball

On February 23, 2018, T. Rowe Price launched Multi-Strategy Total Return (TMSRX / TMSSX) which combines six liquid-alt strategies in a single package. These multi-strategy or multi-alternative funds function in the way that hedged funds were originally envisioned to: they combine strategies whose returns are not dependent on the movements of the broad equity and bond markets and, ideally, are not correlated with each other. The goal is to produce the Continue reading →

March 1, 2018

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

I’m often a bit confused. Sometimes it’s as simple as the stuff in my pantry. Why, for instance, is cranberry sauce canned upside down? Look! The part you’ve supposed to open is on the bottom.

Sometimes it’s the challenge of figuring other people out. What was Snap’s board thinking when they gave their CEO at $637 million (an amount equal to 75% of the company’s revenue) bonus? Someone named Kylie Jenner shared the following 19 words on Twitter: “”so does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me? Ugh, this is so sad.” How on Earth did that convince investors to trim $1.6 billion in Snap’s market value in 24 hours? Continue reading →

Funds for the Gun-Shy

By David Snowball

I grew up in western Pennsylvania where even the elementary schools let out classes on the first day of small game season. I’m the son of a veteran and a hunter, and the grandson of a sheriff. I spent a lot of mornings, just after dawn, in blaze orange, walking as quietly as a seven-year-old could. I owned a single-barrel 20 gauge Remington and cared for it well. (I also owned a .22 with a scope I never quite mastered.) I was thrilled when I got to stay overnight in a hunting camp with “the men,” though I modestly regretted both the jar of Limburger cheese that someone had left the season before and the creepy sounds you heard when visiting the outhouse at night. I’ve sheltered in the eerie calm of a Continue reading →

Launch Alert: JOHCM Global Income Builder

By David Snowball

On November 29, 2017, J.O. Hambro Capital Management launched JOHCM Global Income Builder (JOFIX/JOBIX) managed by the firm’s Multi Asset Value Team. It seeks to achieve a reliable stream of meaningful monthly income distributions, coupled with some capital growth and a vigilant concern for limiting investor losses. It is a multi-asset fund but it is largely unconstrained: it targets US and international income-producing securities including common stock, high-yield and investment grade debt, preferred shares and convertibles, and a variety of hedges including gold, precious metals, currency forward contracts, and inflation-linked vehicles. Continue reading →

The Morningstar Minute

By David Snowball

The Morningstar Investment Conference returns to June and to the McCormick Place. MICUS runs June 11–13, 2018 at McCormick Place, Chicago. Jeremy Grantham and Dan Kahnemann are speaking and folks from a bunch of first-tier small fund firms will be there: Centerstone, FPA, JOHCM, Moerus, Queens Road, RiverPark, Seafarer. Not Grandeur Peak or Rondure. Pity. We’ll be there. Let us know if you’d like to meet. Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

Updates

The 2018 Thomas Reuters Lipper Fund Awards have been announced. By their calculation, the top fund families overall are Thrivent Mutual Funds and TIAA Investments. Thrivent represents the universe of small fund companies while TIAA represents large firms. The top small fund families were PRIMECAP (equities), Ashmore (fixed income) and Allianz Global Investors (mixed assets).

Individual funds worth noting Continue reading →

February 1, 2018

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s a Tale of Two Parties, one rather healthier than the other. My students, slowed by a surprisingly cold month and end-of-term stress (Augustana is finishing a Winter trimester that began a bit after Halloween and ends near Valentine’s Day), have taken to launching spontaneous little parties in hopes of gathering that last burst of energy needed to make it through a last set of research presentations and reflective essays. Lionel Ritchie (whose name they barely recognize) captures the late winter moment: “Party, Karamu, Fiesta, Forever. Come on and sing along.” On whole, that strikes me as joyful, appropriate and, ultimately, productive.

The other party rather Continue reading →

Launch Alert: CrossingBridge Low Duration High Yield (CBLDX)

By David Snowball

CrossingBridge Low Duration High Yield launched on February 1, 2018. The fund seeks “high current income and capital appreciation consistent with the preservation of capital.” The plan is to invest in junk bonds and loans, mostly CCC or better. Their investable universe includes corporate bonds, zero-coupon bonds, commercial paper, ETNs, distressed debt securities, bank loan assignments and/or participations, private placements, mortgage- and asset-backed securities, U.S. Government obligations and bank loans to corporate borrowers. While most of the portfolio will be domestic, up to 25% might be foreign fixed-income securities. They’ll generally have a duration of three years or less. There’s also some (limited) ability to Continue reading →

Elevator Talk: Parker Binion, KCM Macro Trends Fund

By David Snowball

Since the number of funds we can cover in-depth is smaller than the number of funds worthy of in-depth coverage, we’ve decided to offer one or two managers each month the opportunity to make a 200 word pitch to you. That’s about the number of words a slightly-manic elevator companion could share in a minute and a half. In each case, I’ve promised to offer a quick capsule of the fund and a link back to the fund’s site. Other than that, they’ve got 200 words and precisely as much of your time and attention as you’re willing to share. These aren’t endorsements; they’re opportunities to learn more about interesting funds.

KCM Macro Trends Fund (KCMTX/KCMIX) launched in Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

Updates (and notes from careful readers)

Several MLP funds – including Center Coast MLP Focus Fund (CCCAX) and Global X MLP ETF (MLPA) – have announced that the recent tax law changes affects them. They’re treated as “a regular corporation” for the purpose of tax law, which means that the statutory tax rate that affects them has dropped from 35% to 21%. It is not yet clear that the rate change will have any appreciable effect on shareholders or the funds’ returns because of the complexity of calculating corporate taxes, then or now.

FPA U.S. Value Fund (FPPFX) has affirmed the proposition that Continue reading →

January 1, 2018

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Welcome to the New Year!

And to an odd question: why is it a New Year? That is, why January 1? Most calendrical events correspond to something: cycles of the moon and stars, movement of the seasons, conclusions of wars or deaths of Great Men.

But why January 1? It corresponds with nothing.

The short version of the answer is Continue reading →

Rolling toward the one fund you can trust

By David Snowball

The knock on mutual fund performance numbers is that they’re static and arbitrary snapshots that give the illusion of being meaningful. What do you learn from looking at a fund’s five-year performance number? Mostly, you learn that the fund, through skill or luck, did well in the market conditions that obtained between December 2012 and December 2017. Sadly, we don’t have any reason to think those two dates are particularly important (why December 2012? ‘cause it was five years ago, duh!) and we don’t have any Continue reading →

Shukran jazīlan! Trugarez! Xièxie! Go raibh maith agaibh! E molte grazie!

By David Snowball

Likewise merci, danke and, more than all, thanks!

On December 17th, I wrote a note to the 7,000 or so folks on our mailing list. The sad part of the note was reminding folks of the end of our associate’s relationship with Amazon which had so long provided our ability to cover our “hard” bills such as webhosting and email. The glad part was announcing a challenge gift of $2000, offered by three MFO readers who wanted to do the best they could to support us. Their offer was straightforward: we’ll put in a dollar of our own money for every Continue reading →